About Rick Whelden
When the heaviest of rock bands trades its walls of amps for a couple of acoustic guitars, we have a word for that. But once upon a time, before MTV spawned a program where established artists were issued that challenge, the acoustic guitar was seldom if ever seen on a rock stage.
The New York Times reported that the inspiration for MTV Unplugged was Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora’s acoustic performance of “Wanted Dead or Alive” at the 1989 MTV Music Awards accompanied only by Richie’s double neck and Jon’s 12 string Ovations. Revisiting that performance, it’s easy to believe. Somehow the live acoustic version was better than the record.
The concept caught on and the term “unplugged” morphed from an adjective describing the general idea, to a noun for a previously non-existent genre - and the acoustic guitar was cool again.
The artist relations guy who facilitated that game-changing Bon Jovi performance was Rick Whelden. Rick was so valued and well regarded by Jon and Richie that he toured regularly with them and was sincerely referred to as the 5th member. But that is just one of countless interesting episodes in ‘The Life of Rick Whelden’ series.
During his career, Rick put Ovation and/or Takamine guitars in the hands of Pete Townshend, Nancy Wilson, Nils Lofgren, Brian May, Al DiMeola, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page, Larry Coryell, Ray Davies, Dave Stewart, Motley Crew, Phil Upchurch, Eddie Rabbit and Scorpions to name a very small, but diverse fraction of Rick’s cumulative client list.
Rick, with his indomitable spirit, unswerving commitment and true love of music was absolutely key to the full realization of Charlie Kaman’s vision of the acoustic guitar unleashed. Rick understood the profound impact of Charlie’s relationship with Glenn Campbell, both musically and business-wise and wanted to recreate that blessed marriage of art and commerce again and again. And he did.
Rick passed unexpectedly last week. Those that knew him are stunned, very sad, and more than a little reflective. But remembering what Rick accomplished and the impact he made seems to help. The guy left us quite an acoustic-electric legacy to celebrate – and Rick did like to celebrate.
Godspeed, Whelden. Meet you at the back gate - and if you could swing a pass…